With advancements in fuel efficiency and other aircraft technologies, the increased prevalence of long-haul narrowbody flights had us asking ourselves if it would be possible to fly around the world using only single-aisle aircraft. This is something we’ll explore today, while examining which flights we might take to get the job done!
Seeing as this is just a simple thought experiment, we won’t be setting stringent parameters and extremely precise criteria. Nor will we take into consideration the difficulties and challenges of obtaining visas and meeting requirements amid various border restrictions. Ultimately, the goal is to depart one location in the world, travel in one direction, and get back to that same spot – all the while using regular, scheduled flights operated by narrowbody aircraft. We might have to skip over a few continents for our “main journey,” but we’ll be sure to mention some travel options to make our round-the-world trip a little more diverse and comprehensive. So if you’re ready, let’s begin!
Transcontinental (United States)
Let’s begin the trip by flying over the continental United States, with our official origin (and final destination) being Los Angeles International (LAX). If we want to get as far as possible heading east, then any one of the many transcontinental services between Los Angeles and New York would suit us well. Options might include American Airlines and their A321T to New York JFK or JetBlue and their flights using the Airbus A321 and A320, also to JFK.
There are also airlines flying narrowbodies to Newark Liberty from LAX. These include United Airlines and their 757-200s, and Alaska Airlines and their A321s and 737s. It’s also worth noting that JetBlue serves Newark in addition to its JFK flights. Other distant options could have you fly from Los Angeles to Boston Logan with American Airlines or JetBlue, or you can take an Air Canada Airbus A220-300 to Montreal.
Unfortunately, in choosing to fly over the continental United States with the intention to fly east, we end up skipping over South America. However, if we wanted to include the continent, one could head south using airlines like Aeromexico or Copa Airlines. Of course, in doing so, one or two extra flights might be needed in order to get to a Brazilian airport that offers a transatlantic narrowbody service.
But if we were to return to our “main journey,” what flights could we take over the Atlantic from JFK? There are a handful of options here, but to list a few, we have:
- Aer Lingus and its A321neo services to Shannon and Manchester
- JetBlue’s A321neo service to London Heathrow
- And finally, TAP Air Portugal and its A321neo flight to Lisbon
If we were to fly out of Newark, we could have found ourselves on an A321 to Paris Orly or Milan Malpensa with all-business-airline La Compagnie or on an Aer Lingus A321neo to Dublin. United Airlines 757-200 service to Edinburgh would have also worked.
Now, if we had gone through South America for our transatlantic leg, then flying TAP Air Portugal to Lisbon would have been one of our only options. This would see us flying from Brazilian cities like Belem or Natal on an A321neo to get across the Atlantic.
One last note about flying a narrowbody transatlantic is that there are numerous other options from North America – options that would have been open to us if we were willing to add another connection or start from a city other than Los Angeles. Indeed, Icelandair serves Seattle and Portland with either the 757-200 or 737 MAX 8, while Air Transat could have flown us across Canada and then over to European destinations like London Gatwick, Glasgow, Paris, Lisbon, and more.
Flying across Europe in a narrowbody would be one of the cheapest and easiest parts of our mammoth journey. Of course, it’s only cheap if you’re flying one of the several European budget airlines available. Of course, if you’re doing this, then you wouldn’t be departing from Heathrow. Instead, you would need to depart from essentially any other London area airport – including Gatwick, Luton, or Stansted. As one example, one could fly from Stansted to Athens with Ryanair on a 737.
Yes, the options to traverse Europe are seemingly endless. However, if we were to fly from London Heathrow, we can get to the Middle East with British Airways’ service to Amman (Jordan) on an A321 or to Beirut with an MEA A321neo. Apparently, one of the furthest flights would be Air Astana’s service from Heathrow to a city named Aktau in Kazakhstan. But, just to ensure decent connectivity without taking too many more regional flights, let’s say we fly from Heathrow to Istanbul on an A321 – operated by either British Airways or Turkish Airlines.
There are quite a few options to get across Asia in a narrowbody aircraft. Right away, Middle Eastern budget airlines like Air Arabia, flydubai, and Jazeera Airways would offer good connections across the continent with their respective hubs and narrowbody aircraft. One could also get quite far with Turkish Airlines’ A321 service to cities in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
However, for this part of our journey, let’s go with Kazakh airline Air Astana and its A320 family of aircraft, which connects passengers through its main hub at Almaty. With one stop in Almaty, Air Astana can get us as far east as Beijing and even further southeast to Bangkok and Phuket.
Transpacific (with a United Airlines 737!?)
Flying across the Pacific is seemingly the most interesting part of our challenge. It’s a big ocean, and there are few places a narrowbody can stop in the middle – either to refuel or to allow passengers to connect. But there are actually options!
To get from Asia to North America using only narrowbody services, Guam’s Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport will be our main gateway. It doesn’t appear that any airlines fly from Guam to the previously mentioned Air Astana A321 destinations. So we would have to get from Bangkok or Beijing to another East/Southeast Asian city before heading to Guam. Seoul, Manila, and Tokyo are just a few of the options available. Air Astana does fly to Seoul Incheon, but for this service, a Boeing 767-300ER is used.
Once we’ve reached Guam, we can hop across the islands of the mid-Pacific Ocean. Flying with United Airlines and its Boeing 737s, we can get to Honolulu. From Guam, this will see us pass through the following airports:
- Chuuk (TKK)
- Pohnpei (PNI)
- Kosrae (KSA)
- Kwajalein (KWA)
- Majuro (MAJ)
All of these hops can be done with a single airline and a single aircraft in a “milk run” sort of service. Heading east, this would be flight UA155. At nearly 2000 nautical miles (3700km), the flight between Majuro and Honolulu is the longest of our hops during this stretch.
And, of course, from Honolulu, there’s a wide variety of narrowbody services to the continental United States and Canada. Air Canada and WestJet use the 737 MAX to connect the Hawaiian city to Vancouver, while Alaska uses its narrowbodies to connect to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and more. But of course, if our goal is to head back to our origin airport, then there are dozens of narrowbody services to LAX.
These include American, Alaska, United, and Southwest. Interestingly, at the time of writing this article, Hawaiian and Delta only operate widebody aircraft between Honolulu and Los Angeles – something passengers would probably prefer anyways!
Photo: Northern Pacific
Before we wrap up this article, it’s worth noting that narrowbody transpacific flying might be a little bit easier in the future with startup carrier Northern Pacific Airways. The airline’s plan is to have an Icelandair-style operating model to connect several East Asian cities to US cities with its hub in Anchorage using a fleet of Boeing 757-200s. The airline is due to commence operations in the first half of 2023, so we’ll just have to wait and see if the airline’s plan holds firm.
Unfortunately, we did skip over the entire African continent as well as Oceania. However, many travelers and avgeeks will know that it’s quite possible to add these continents into our narrow body-only itinerary with a number of additional flights.
If we wanted to pass over a little more of Africa, then we could get to Casablanca – one of the main hubs of Royal Air Maroc. This would allow us to get as far south as Angola with a 737 MAX 8. From Angola, a combination of flights with TAAG Angola Airlines, Kenya Airways, and Ethiopian Airlines would then easily get us heading east again towards the Middle East and Asia.
Over in Southeast Asia, it would again be quite easy to take narrowbody flights to Australia and onwards to New Zealand and the islands of the South Pacific. In fact, one could easily get to Nadi International Airport in Fiji from Australia or New Zealand and then take a roughly six-hour 737 MAX 8 flight to Honolulu.
Conclusion: Fewer flights needed in the future?
Well, hopefully, you’ve enjoyed our hypothetical narrowbody-only itinerary around the world.
While the latest generation of narrowbody jets has certainly given us a lot more options, it’s clear from this exercise that options have been available for many years now. United’s island hopping services from Guam to Honolulu and Icelandair’s model of having a “single stop in Keflavik” show that older aircraft can make – and have made – these journeys too.
Photo: Fiji Airways
By our count, using United Airlines through Guam, this journey would be completed with 14 flights – although the actual number of take-offs and landings might actually be slightly less if we were to fly via Australia and Fiji to Honolulu.
So what would be your ideal routing if you were to only take narrowbody aircraft on a round-the-world journey? Are there any airlines you would seek out specifically? Or avoid it completely? Let us know by leaving a comment!